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Now that the Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA) Rule on vaccine mandates for private Employers with 100+ employees was suspended in November 2021 until further notice, it is more important than ever that employers are more aware of how to mitigate vaccine mandates in the workplace based on the current US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) mandates.
The EEOC recently updated its COVID-19 guidance, detailing its view of employer obligations under Title VII when evaluating religious objections to COVID-19 vaccination mandates. The EEOC also added guidance on requests for accommodation based on pregnancy under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Together, these comprise the second significant update to EEOC’s COVID-19 guidance since the FDA and CDC authorized COVID-19 vaccines.
Employers who implemented vaccine mandates have faced a tidal wave of requests for religious exemptions. The sheer volume of requests combined with the difficulty of separating protected versus unprotected claims, all while respecting an employee’s stated beliefs, has been a significant challenge for human resources and legal departments. With these latest updates, made on October 13, and October 25, 2021, the EEOC has attempted to provide clearer guidance to employers on accommodation requests.
Although the OSHA Rule is suspended, it is expected that this will be temporary and may be resumed after the legal battles. Either way, Employers still need to prepare for the possibility that there may be some form of a version of the mandate. Until then, the EEOC is the mandate that needs to be clear for the workplace.
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